RT’s Note: I’ve had several good chats with Colin McDougall while sitting at London’s Hunt Club or in a nearby Starbucks in recent months. Like most conversations I have people in the golf business, the situation inevitably leads to a discussion about the state of the industry. Colin, whose family ran the Accuform brand of golf clubs, is now a Professor of Golf Management in the 4-year degree program at Georgian College in Barrie. This is his second guest blog — and it appears more are forthcoming.
I really enjoyed reading RT’s interview with Sean Toulon, Exec VP of TaylorMade a few months ago regarding the company’s plans to create a new, golf-like game that “…could be played alongside golf that would be played by a totally new set of rules.”
I can see two main reasons for this train of thought from the current kings of the equipment mountain. First, Mr. Toulon and team TaylorMade are well aware of the lack of growth in the game and see the resulting fight for market share with their competitors as I do – an uninspiring, seesaw battle that no one truly benefits from in the long-term. It’s a lot more fun when the pie is actually growing, watching everyone benefit to various degrees based on their respective company’s performance. What’s transpiring nowadays in the equipment market is a zero-sum game where one firm gaining means another must be losing.
Secondly, Mr. Toulon and his team may have also done what few in the golf world do when it comes to examining why people don’t take up the game – they actually put themselves in the shoes of the uninitiated. Take a moment to think about how non-golfers must feel when they first come in contact with the game itself. I’m sure that for many there is an enormous fear factor involved. To illustrate the point, here’s my take on a sample of what I call “The Conversation” between a new golfer and their committed golfing-friend….
New Golfer: What are all those?
Friend: These are your clubs. Got a deal on them at Golf Town – only $1200 for the full set including the bag!
New Golfer: How many clubs do I need?
New Golfer: Why so many?
Friend: Each one has a specific purpose in terms of how far it goes, plus you can use many of them for touch shots around the green. Also, fourteen is the limit allowed by the rules of golf. Btw, here’s your copy of those rules for reference.
New Golfer: (browsing RCGA rule book…) I have to follow all the rules in this book? It reads like the Old Testament…
Friend: Yep – follow the rules and if you do something wrong when no one is looking, you should call the penalty on yourself – that’s the beauty of the game, we self-police!
New Golfer: But I just want to hit the ball and have fun.
Friend: Playing by the rules is fun. Trust me. Hey, are you going to wear that today?
New Golfer: Umm, yeah – why?
Friend: Well, there’s also a lot of etiquette when it comes to playing the game and at many golf courses there’s a dress code, so it may be a good idea to put on a shirt with a collar.
New Golfer: Is there a book on golf etiquette too?
Friend: Don’t be silly, we’ll just tell you every time you do something wrong until you stop doing it.
New Golfer: Ummm, ok. When will we be finished – my wife wants to know so we can make dinner plans.
Friend: It’s about 25 minutes to the course, twenty minutes to warm up, eighteen holes is 4 hours, a beer afterwards – I’d say about 6 hours and you’re back.
New Golfer: It takes 4 hours to play a full round of golf?
Friend: Yep. And if we don’t finish in said four hours everyone that played behind us will give you and I the stink-eye in the clubhouse afterwards for holding’em up. But don’t worry I’ll make sure you keep pace even if it means making you feel even more self-conscious than you already do.
Obviously this is a heightened version of ‘the conversation’ but it highlights to those of us who are in the game what we tend to forget as to why more people don’t drop whatever they’re doing in their daily lives to take up golf.
Here’s what is true about our game:
- It’s incredibly complex to learn
- It takes a long friggin’ time to play
- It’s expensive
- It’s filled with a bunch of rules you are expected to know and embrace
- It’s loaded with expectations of proper etiquette
- People in the game have little understanding or appreciation of any of the points above and often make it harder on people looking to take it up
From my perspective it’s easy to see why a company like TaylorMade is looking seriously at creating a new companion game to golf – they want to change the conversation. I, for one, applaud that effort and wish them the best in their endeavour.
In my next blog – yeah, I’m on a roll here – I’ll share my view on why the sport of Long-Drive is where equipment companies should be looking to find that elusive sales growth.